BluRay/DVD Reviews

CHAPLIN’S GOLIATH

By • Jul 8th, 2003 •

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Kino. 1996

Eric Campbell was the first movie tough guy. We all have seen him in Charlie Chaplin shorts, as an enormous, mean-looking street brute resembling Popeye’s Bluto, his arms whirling about like some homicidal windmill, clobbering his opponent, who was usually the small framed Chaplin. Filmdom had it’s first mega-star in Chaplin, and his was one of the most easily recognizable faces worldwide in the 20th century. Up until this fascinating documentary, made for Scottish television in 1996, very little was known about one of Chaplin’s best remembered on-screen collaborators.
Campbell is revered as a favorite son in his hometown of Dunoon, Scotland, where he was born in 1879. Trained as a scientist, Campbell, large framed all his life, turned to music hall singing and comedy instead. (This documentary has incredible archival footage of pre-World War I music hall comedy acts.) He became part of Fred Karno’s comedy troup, where he met young Charles Chaplin and Stan Laurel.
Campbell came to America in 1913, and later sent for his wife and daughter to come over from England when he was called by Chaplin to work in Hollywood. His kindly, pudgy face was made over with imposing whiskers and almost zombie-like eye shadow. Campbell became the perfect adversary for the little tramp. If dressed “up-scale”, Campbell became the ultimate money-bag heartless tyrant.
CHAPLIN’S GOLIATH borrows visual material from Kevin Brownlow’s UNKNOWN CHAPLIN, a fantastic documentary showing rare Chaplin out-takes and rehearsals. If you see both documentaries, you’ll see out-takes of another Chaplin collaborator, Henry Bergman, trying his hand at being a bullying waiter in THE IMMIGRANT. Bergman was too old and slow for the part. The next take shows Eric Campbell essaying the same material. Looking like the waiter from Hell, he twists plug nickels in his teeth and tosses out deadbeat customers like garbage.
The documentary dwells mostly on Campbell as a timeless comic genius. Very little is spent on his upsetting private life (a Chaplin historian does read part of Campbell’s divorce petition.) Campbell, who was one of Chaplin’s best friends, died in a drunk driving accident in late 1917. The film-makers point out that at the end of THE ADVENTURER, the last film Campbell and Chaplin made together, Chaplin’s little tramp traps Campbell’s bullying thug in a door and kisses him goodbye!


Directed and Written by Kevin MacDonald

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